Visitors Guide C
There are a number of nice spots for a coffee, breakfast or a snack in Apia including Pacific Jewel’s Garden Cafe, Milani Caffe, Home Cafe, Coffeebean Cafe, Krush Legends and Cafe Sele & Bar. Here is a link to Trip Advisor for some reviews on the best cafes for breakfast – Trip Advisor
Camping is not really part of the Samoan way and, really, why would you when you can stay in a beach fale for $70 (Samoan) per person per night including breakfast and dinner. If you are invited to stay informally with a family in a village, accept the hospitality, enjoy the experience but be prepared to part with $50 – not as payment, which can be considered offensive, but as a gift in return for the hospitality you have received. Attitude is very important to Samoans and to quote a Samoan proverb from David Stanley’s Moon Handbook’s South Pacific about guests who abuse hospitality – ua afu le laufala – the floormats are sweating. One campsite on Upolu is in O Le Pupu-Pu’e National Park is near the stunning Togitogiga Falls. There are excellent swimming holes, toilets and changing rooms here. Popular with locals for picnics, admission is free and visitors can get permission to camp there for a night or two.
There are several canoeing clubs in Apia with six-man outrigger competitions held throughout the year. You’ll see them paddling on the harbour in the evening – feel free to ask if you can have a go! (Also see Kayaking)
The white sand and palm-covered cape is Samoa’s most western tip and where the world’s day comes to an end. Also known as Sunset Beach for tourists there is a $10 per car entry fee. There is an ancient star mound near here but you will need the help of a local guide to find it.
There are a number of daily crossings from Upolu to Savai’i and back starting at 6:00am. The MV Lady Samoa II and MV Fotu-0-Samoa II are both car ferries – a small car/jeep costs $50 one way. If hiring a car in Apia, check if the insurance is valid for trips to Savai’i. Probably best to look at double car hire rather than the ferry…
It’s easy to get around both islands of Upolu and Savai’i by car – driving is on the right hand side of the road and you should take your time, especially through villages where chickens, dogs or children may run onto the road. Kids may also throw stones at cars if they are speeding so keep that in mind as a deterrent – it could put a serious dent in your insurance excess as well as the vehicle. If you happen to bump into a much-valued pig, head back to Apia and turn yourself into the police (Ifiji St near the courthouse – ph 22 222). There are rental offices at the international airport, in Apia and at Salelologa on Savai’i. Your driver’s licence must be endorsed by the Transport Control Board prior to rental (the hire company will assist). The office is near the flea market and cost is $10. An international driver’s licence won’t be recognised. Car hire in Samoa is the cheapest in the South Pacific and fuel costs are also reasonable – but it can be scarce so top up in Apia and wherever you can just to be sure. Some of the hire car operators have a dodgy reputation so if you feel uncomfortable (e.g. if they ask you for a passport as security) try somewhere else.
Also, check the car for dings, bumps and scratches before heading off. While all the above sounds a bit negative, if you keep your wits about you and travel slowly, you will be rewarded.
There are a number of caves to explore, most of them being in old lava tubes, which are also home to white-rumped swiftlets (aerodramus spodiopygius to ornithologists).
There are three pharmacies in Apia. Apia Pharmacy’s phone number is 22 703 and it is located on the main road (Beach Road) between the new SNPF plaza and the town clock. Opening hours are Mon-Fri 8.30am to 5.00pm and Sat 8.30am to 1.30pm. Maria’s Healthcare Pharmacy (Vaea St) is open to 5:30pm, phone 29 834 and Samoa Pharmacy Sogi (Mulinu’u St), phone 20 335
Kids will be kids and Samoan kids will be Samoan kids. They can be cute and charming but they can also be precocious and somewhat of a nuisance. Unlike pikininis in Vanuatu who can be painfully shy, most village children in Samoa aren’t at all backwards in coming forward. Greet them with a smile and ‘talofa’ (hello) but ignore them (politely) if they become pests. On no account give them money or you will never get rid of them and, if they become a real nuisance, seek out their parents or a local matai (head of the extended family).
For travellers with children 3 to 12, Aggie Grey’s Lagoon Beach Resort & Spa is a good option because of the facilities. The Kids Club has a pool table, air hockey, electronic games, activities and a jumping castle. At the other end of the scale, teaching children to slow down and enjoy nature should be an option – swim, snorkel and unwind away from those X-boxes and other electronic pursuits.
Children (travelling with)
Even though there are direct flights to Samoa from Australia now it is further than Fiji and a bit of planning can make flying with children more pleasant. Packing a couple of favourite games and toys is a good idea and perhaps a few little wrapped presents to open when they get bored – every hour or so there’ll be something else to open up and amuse them. Or you can invent little games like find out how many passengers are on board or how many windows there are on the plane. Another tip is to give kids a disposable camera to record the flight.
Also pack their favourite food and drink, especially with Polynesian Blue where you have to purchase snacks from the menu. It’s reasonably priced but apart from the chocolate bar, the selection may not appeal to all children. Invest $12 in a digiplayer for this trip – you’ll have time to get in a couple of movies.
It’s also worth getting to the airport early so you don’t have to queue and panic and ask for seats close to either the rear or front (they disembark rear and front) and near the front to Australia and New Zealand (front exit only usually). This will give you a head start to the customs queue.
Religion is a big part of Samoan life. Sundays are dedicated to God, with families attending church in the morning, followed by a family lunch (to’onai) and resting for the remainder of the day. Visitors are welcome at services and they stick out because they are the ones with the hymnbooks – most Samoans know the 300plus hymns in the book off by heart. It is offensive to wear immodest clothing to church and ladies should wear a lavalava (sarong) or dress rather than shorts or trousers. Apparently there are some 200 churches in the 35km between the airport and town and some of them are quite stunning in their architecture.
There are daily family prayers at 6:00pm that last for about 10 minutes. You will hear a gong when this starts and it is polite to stay quietly away until you hear a second gong signifying that prayers have finished. Denominations are Congregational, Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Assembly of God, Bahai, Seventh Day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The national motto is “Samoa is founded on God.”
Apollo Cinemas has all the latest releases and is in Convent Street, Apia (10:00am to 11:00pm).
Samoa is very close to the equator so it’s pretty hot and humid all year round and not much variance in hours of daylight. Temperatures vary little as well and it is usually around 26° Celsius (about 80° Fahrenheit). In the winter months it can get cool in the evenings, but ‘cool’ is relative. Visitors will not feel cold. December to March is cyclone season but there’s a lot more chance of not experiencing one.
Light clothing is appropriate all year round. Take light, smart casual for dining in restaurants.
What a versatile tree the coconut palm is! If it had been manmade rather than natural it would surely have one of those zingy TV commercials – “it chops, it shreds, it dices, it slices…” Not a part of the tree is wasted. It provides natural shade and shelter, the trunk can be fashioned into bowls or part of an outrigger canoe, the leaves woven into baskets, the husk turned into fibre and the leaves matted together for roofing. And, of course, the flesh of the coconut is nutritious, the juice is a great thirst quencher and, once you know how, the trees are easy to climb. There are actually two liquids in a coconut – the fresh coconut juice from the green coconut (which is so pure you can use it as a saline drip in an emergency!) and coconut milk, which is extracted from the flesh of mature coconuts. This is often sold in tins labeled ‘coconut cream’. Best to avoid buying the small tins of solid coconut cream (mainly Asian brands) as they can be rancid. The jewel of the coconut tree is the heart of the palm. This is a delicacy and ‘heart of palm salad’ is known as millionaire’s salad because you have to kill the tree to get to the heart.
Coconuts Beach Club
Coconuts is an American owned/managed resort on the south coast of Upolo with a range of accommodation options from ‘tree house’ accommodation to overwater bungalows. At the time of writing it was a case of out of bad times come good and out of chaos comes order. Coconuts was knocked about badly in a cyclone a few years ago but the upside is that once sleeves were rolled up and the recovery done, the result is a better resort than ever.
Your resort will offer international telephone dialing (can be expensive) and Samotel on Beach Rd in Apia offers fax, stamps and pay phone services (phone cards). Mobile telephony is analogue so global roaming doesn’t work for most international phones. You can hire an analogue phone where you are given a number and calls are charged to your credit card. The international access code is simply 0. For people at home wanting to contact you the country code for Samoa is 685. There are around nine Internet cafes in Apia now so email is accessible and affordable.
The Australian High Commission is next to the Rainforest Café on Beach Road in Apia – phone 23 411. The New Zealand High Commission is close by (opposite the John Williams Memorial) – phone 21 711. The US Embassy number is 21 631 and the British representative 21 758. Other countries represented are Netherlands (Ph 24 337), Sweden (ph 20 346), Germany (Ph 22 634) and China (Ph 22 474).
The Cook Islands are similar to Samoa in climate (further south though), scenery and both countries are part of Polynesia. The cultures differ greatly, however. If you would like more info on the Cook Islands – Cook Islands A to Z.
The coral, combined with colourful fish and excellent visibility in the waters around Upolu and Savai’i makes for great snorkelling and diving. The difference between hard and soft coral is that soft coral (more delicate and pretty) requires currents to keep it alive, so the best soft coral is found on off-shore reefs with hard coral bommies in the sheltered parts of the lagoons. Apart from looking you can also explore with your ears. If you listen hard, you will hear soft, crunching sounds – the noise of fish chewing on coral.
Coral cuts can be irritating and occasionally nasty. They can turn into tropical ulcers, although this is more likely to happen to someone who lives in the tropics because of the constant heat and humidity. If you get a scratch or graze (and it can happen without you knowing while snorkelling – it’s only when the air hits do you realise), nature’s cure is to squeeze lemon or lime onto the wound. The best stuff to cleanse the wound is Hydrogen Peroxide (if it doesn’t fizz, it’s not infected), followed by an anti-bacterial cream and cover with a dressing. Repeat a number of times a day and be aware that coral dust can be on cement or sharp surfaces away from the water. Treat any graze with caution and care. In Australia or New Zealand you would leave it uncovered and let the air heal – in the tropics it’s the reverse. Having said that, cuts are rare if you wear reef shoes when walking on coral and if you watch where you snorkel.
Most credit cards are widely accepted in shops and resorts and are a convenient way to purchase things – but be aware you may lose on the exchange rate because card charges are cleared through New Zealand – probably not too bad if you are a visiting Kiwi but it means other tourists may purchase in tala, actually pay in NZ dollars and then have the amount converted into their own currency when the bill arrives. There are 250 EFTPOS outlets in Samoa that take Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus, Amex, JCB etc.
“It’s not cricket!” is a familiar catch-cry when something isn’t fair. Well, in Samoa, cricket’s not cricket. The Samoan version of the game can be played with teams of various numbers and rules can change depending on the players or the conditions. Balls are homemade (from rubber trees) and the bats are three-sided, giving the game an edge of unpredictability. The rule I like best is that the home team automatically loses if they fail to provide enough food. The kirikiti season starts in July.
I have never felt safer than in Samoa. There’s no hint of violent crime but theft to the locals may not be considered stealing. The concept of ownership is not as we perceive it so towels or items of clothing may ‘go missing’ if you leave them unattended. Drink can be a curse in any culture, as can the appearance of a belligerent drunk late at night. If approached, be polite (even apologetic) and diffuse the situation. Not a bad suggestion for anywhere in the world really. If two belligerent drunks choose to go at each other you have the choice of walking away or watching the sideshow.
The Samoan decimal currency is the tala (a.k.a. Samoan dollar), which is made up of 100 sene (cents). Note denominations are $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100. All major foreign currencies are exchangeable for tala in Samoa. For currency conversion, click here.
At time of writing the Australian dollar was buying 1.9 tala, the Kiwi dollar 1.8 tala and US dollar 2.5 tala. This is my favourite currency conversion site – www.xe.com. For a quick conversion, think two tala to the dollar.
Customs arrival at the international airport is about as friendly as you’ll find anywhere with a uniformed person in a position of authority. There is a resident’s queue and a queue for tourists and possibly a person behind the desk for diplomats and VIPs where there will be no one in the queue. Apart from visitors from China, no visas are required for stays up to 30 days.
Samoa is a traditional Polynesian society. There are some 362 villages with a total of 18,000 matai (chiefs). Villages are made up of extended family members called aiga. The aiga own the land and have a matai as head of the family. The matai has traditional authority in the village and the central structures in each village are the church and the fale fono where the matais meet to discuss village matters.
Watch, listen, take things slowly. In fact, take things very slowly if you want to be like a local. Samoans tolerate visitors who make social gaffes but a few things to remember – it is impolite to eat while walking through a village or to stand while talking and eating in a fale. The position for this is to sit, cross-legged, on a mat. Don’t stretch your legs while sitting and don’t point your feet at anyone. Treat matais with the utmost respect – never turn your back. As little movement as possible shows respect for the people (and the climate!). Take off your shoes before entering a fale and walk around mats, not over them. A lot of work went into making them and they are for sitting on. It is impolite to refuse food, even if you are not hungry. Samoans never refuse the offer of food but that’s also a love of eating as well as a manners thing. And female nudity is a no-no.
Fa’a Samoa (the Samoan way) is something special to be experienced. Relax and go with the flow.
There are a number of Internet cafes in Apia but they are a bit thin on the ground away from the city. On Savai’i there is Treasure Island in Manase and one in Salelologa.
On Savai’i you can hire bikes from René at Raci’s Beach Club next to the service station in Manase. Take plenty of water!